COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Media worldwide should join forces in “fighting for facts” amid threats to press freedoms instead of competing with each other, Maria Ressa, joint winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace prize, said Thursday on the eve of the award ceremony in Norway's capital.
Speaking at an Oslo press conference with fellow laureate Dmitry Muratov of Russia, Ressa, a Filipina, said that “the era of competition for news is dead.”
"I think this is a time when we’re on the same side fighting for facts and we’re going to need to find new ways of collaboration, not just each in our countries, but also globally,” she said.
Since the coveted prize was awarded to them in October, freedom of the press has not improved in either the Philippines or Russia, Ressa and Muratov said.
“So, no, so far press freedom is under threat. It takes a lot to be able to be here today to respond to your questions,” said Ressa. She added that she had “to get four courts to give approval to allow me to travel" because of criminal complaints she faces in her country.
Ressa is the first person from the Philippines to win the Nobel Peace prize. Last year, she was convicted of libel and sentenced to jail in a decision seen as a major blow to press global freedom. She currently is out on bail but faces seven active legal cases.
Speaking through an interpreter, Muratov said that “governments invest in lies and not in journalism,” adding that he was “fully aware that this prize is for the whole journalist community.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee selected the two for their separate fight for freedom of expression in countries where reporters have faced persistent attacks, harassment and even murder.
In 2012, Ressa, 58, co-founded Rappler, a government critical news website. The seven criminal complaints she faces are in relation to legal issues hounding her news agency, including an allegation that it violated a constitutional ban on media agencies receiving foreign investment funds.
Muratov, 59, was one of the founders in 1993 of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He has said he sees the prize as an award to Novaya Gazeta journalists and contributors who were killed, including Anna Politkovskaya who covered Russia’s bloody conflict in Chechnya.
Norwegian Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said Thursday that the prize was “to underscore the importance of information in our society today.”
“A healthy society and democracy (are) dependent on trustworthy information so that the public at large (and) politicians can base their decisions and debates on facts-based information,” Reiss-Andersen said. “There’s so much information in society today that is not trustworthy, is disinformation, is propaganda, is fake news.”
Asked what the prize meant to her, Ressa compared it with a light that “is a shield in so many ways.”
“It’s a spotlight to show how much more difficult it is to do our jobs," she said. “The only weapon, the only defense journalists can have in an environment like this is to actually shine the light and to keep doing our jobs.”
On Thursday, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists said in a bleak assessment that imprisonments of media workers were on the rise, with 365 journalists behind bars compared to 235 last year. Nine journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan alone and 102 imprisoned in China.
Russia still has 12 journalists behind bars, and three reporters were killed in the Philippines, it said.
The IFJ also highlighted the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists as a “rare positive development.”
The prize — 10 million kronor ($1.1 million), medals and diplomas — will be formally awarded in Oslo Friday.
Since 1901, the prizes have been presented at ceremonies on Dec. 11, which is the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death. The other awards — physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine and literature as well as the economic prize — traditionally have been handed out in Stockholm.